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Stewart Enterprises (STEI)

Q3 2012 Earnings Call

September 06, 2012 11:00 am ET

Executives

Martin R. de Laurèal - Senior Vice President of Corporate Development & Investor Relations

Thomas M. Kitchen - Chief Executive Officer, President, Director and Member of Investment Committee

Lewis J. Derbes - Chief Financial Officer, Senior Vice President and Treasurer

Analysts

Albert J. Rice - UBS Investment Bank, Research Division

Christian Rigg - Susquehanna Financial Group, LLLP, Research Division

James Clement - Sidoti & Company, LLC

Dick Innes - JC Clark Ltd.

Clint D. Fendley - Davenport & Company, LLC, Research Division

Nicholas Jansen - Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division

Presentation

Operator

Good day, everyone, and welcome to the Stewart Enterprises Third Quarter 2012 Earnings Conference Call. As a reminder, today's call is being recorded. [Operator Instructions] On the call today is Tom Kitchen, President and Chief Executive Officer; Lew Derbes, Chief Financial Officer; and Martin de Laurèal, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development and Investor Relations. I would now like to turn the conference over to Martin de Laurèal. Please go ahead.

Martin R. de Laurèal

Thank you, operator. Good morning. On behalf of Stewart Enterprises, I would like to welcome everyone. By now, you should have already received a copy of our press release. If not, please visit Stewart's website at www.stei.com. On today's call, management will provide an overview of the third quarter for 2012 and then we'll open up the call for your questions.

The information contained in the call is current only at the time of this call. Statements made by the company that are not historical facts are forward-looking statements. The company assumes no obligation to update any statements, including forward-looking statements made during this call. Examples of forward-looking statements include: projections of revenue or earnings, growth rates, free cash flow, debt levels, tax benefits or other financial items; statements regarding plans and objectives of the company or its management; statements regarding industry trends, competitive trends and their effect on future performance; and assumptions underlying forward-looking statements regarding the company and its business.

The company's actual results could differ materially from any forward-looking statements due to several important factors, which are described in the company's Form 10-K for the year ended October 31, 2011.

The company uses adjusted earnings, adjusted EPS, adjusted EBITDA, net debt and free cash flow as financial measures. These financial measures are not in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America, or GAAP, and are intended to supplement rather than replace or supersede any information presented in accordance with GAAP. Reconciliation to the most directly comparable GAAP financial measures can be found on the company's website at www.stei.com under Investor Information. The reconciliation of non-GAAP financial measures can also be found in the company's press release dated September 5, 2012.

With that said, I'd like to introduce the management of Stewart Enterprises. On the line, we have Tom Kitchen, our President and Chief Executive Officer; and Lew Derbes, our Chief Financial Officer. At this time, I'd like to turn the call over to Tom. Please go ahead.

Thomas M. Kitchen

Thank you, Martin. Good morning, and thank all of you for joining us on the call today. As usual, I'll offer a few opening comments and then I'll turn the call over to Lew, who'll review the third quarter financial performance in more detail before we open up for some Q&A.

Overall, we believe the results of the third quarter of 2012 are impressive, which include a 4% increase in revenue, 24% increase in gross profit and a 340 basis point expansion in gross profit margin. In addition, for continuing operations during the third quarter 2012, we reported a 38% increase in adjusted earnings per share to $0.11 compared to $0.08 for the same period of last year. These results just don't happen by accident, but rather through the focused efforts of the company's dedicated employees and management team that provides the right leadership and direction in accomplishing the company's goals and objectives.

Many factors contributed to the success in our third quarter, which helped to grow our top line, while effectively managing operating expenses, thereby producing significant improvement in profit margins. Our Cemetery segment produced a very strong performance with increased cemetery revenue of 9%, a 51% improvement in cemetery gross profit and a 520-basis-point improvement in cemetery gross margin. Our same-store funeral services improved from 2011. And demonstrating the power of leverage in our funeral business and the importance of effectively managing our costs, we produced a 10% improvement in funeral gross profit dollars and a 200-basis-point increase in gross profit margins compared to the same quarter of last year.

Throughout the fiscal year, our sales team has produced strong results by expanding sales and profitability and delivering an improved customer experience. Their hard work and dedication can be seen in our 13% improvement in preneed funeral sales and our 5% improvement in cemetery property sales for the first 9 months of 2012. Actually, these results are the best start to a fiscal year in preneed sales in 4 years.

During the fiscal year, we made changes to reorganize the company, improve sales and profitability and enhance customer satisfaction. We're building a stronger, better company and have laid the foundation to ensure our long-term success. We believe the financial results of the third quarter and fiscal year-to-date are tangible evidence there we're on the right path.

With that summary, I'm going to turn the call over to Lew.

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